ENCINITAS — The City Council passed on a controversial proposal to change the name of Encinitas’ chief library branch in exchange for a $2 million donation from a philanthropic foundation.
The Mizel Family Foundation in January proposed renaming the library branch after Patricia Mizel, the wife of Steven Mizel, a philanthropist and investor.
The City Council voted 4-0 to decline the offer but to reach out to the family to see if there were any other alternative proposals they would agree with. Mayor Kristin Gaspar recused herself due to a financial conflict.
The decision came after a dozen speakers voiced opposition to the proposal, a turnaround from the public input the council received in the days leading up to the meeting, which was overwhelmingly in favor of the offer.
The speakers carried a prevailing message: the library belonged to the residents of Encinitas, and shouldn’t be named after a private individual under any circumstances. The City Council agreed.
“It is true that we have named other public places after people, such as the Maggie Houlihan Dog Park or the Leo Mullen Sports Park,” Councilwoman Catherine Blakespear said. “But the library is in a category all its own, and I think it is important to recognize that category.”
The council first discussed the proposal in January, when the Mizel Family Foundation approached Gaspar with the offer, and she brought it to the council for deliberation.
Since the proposal was made public, public opinion has been split over whether the city should accept or reject the offer. Proponents said the donation would represent a badly needed infusion of cash into the library’s operations, while opponents have argued that the name of the city’s library should not be up for sale.
The County of San Diego oversees the library branch as part of its library system. Officials said that while the naming of the library was the city’s purview, none of the branches in the library system were named after individuals, only the cities and communities where they were located.
According to a staff report, in exchange for the naming rights in perpetuity, the Mizel foundation offered the city $2 million — $1.5 million of which would go directly to the city and $500,000 to the Friends of the Encinitas Library group.
The gift would have been structured so the city would receive $500,000 after a memorandum of understanding is signed and naming sign is installed — $375,00 to the city and $125,000 to the Friends of the Library. Both entities would receive the same allotment each year until the gift was fully paid.
The city would not have been able to use the funding to back fill any shortfall in the library budget, as the donation would decrease with any decrease in the library’s budget.
City officials also said the inflexibility of the proposal made it difficult to support.
City officials have been bombarded with hundreds of emails from residents about the naming offer. Officials said that most of the letters have been in support of the agreement, while a minority have strongly objected to it.
At Wednesday’s meeting, however, of the 12 speakers, 11 spoke in opposition to the gift, while one person spoke in favor of it and said that opposition to the gift was being fueled by anti-Semitism.
Councilman Tony Kranz said that it was “frustrating and difficult to accept” that argument, but acknowledged that the city did receive what he called “disgusting” emails of an anti-Semitic nature regarding the donation.
One thing the council did not want to do was send a message that the city was not appreciative of the Mizel’s philanthropy.
Since 2007, the Mizel family has matched Encinitas’ $75,000 annual community grant program, doubling the amount of money the city can award to local groups and nonprofits.
The Mizel Foundation has also donated to a number of other organizations around the region, including the Jewish Federation of San Diego County.
“This is not a vote on them or their generosity,” Deputy Mayor Lisa Shaffer said.
This story has been updated since its original posting.